Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mind your backs

About 8 o'clock on Monday morning I was drinking coffee and watching Breakfast T.V. with Shirley. We were musing on what the week would bring for us and those around us when I went, in the words of The Clash, straight to hell. The best way I can describe it is that it felt as though the bottom half of my body was being forcibly separated from the top half of my body in a horizontal straight line roughly level with the base of my spine. The pain was INDESCRIBABLE, a spasm of about 30 seconds or so of screaming agony which subsided long enough for me to say something like 'oh no, my back's gone' to Shirley before the pain returned, every bit as insane as before. I was flat out on the bad, covered in sweat and- I don't mind admitting this- absolutely terrified. Shirley phoned for an ambulance but they told her to call my doctor first; she did and he prescribed painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets over the phone (shouldn't he have seen me first?!?) which she went and picked up. In the meantime the spasms had stopped- provided I didn't move of course, if I did a wave of pain reduced me to a helpless mess- and I convinced myself that if I took the tablets that I'd been given then I'd be 'ok'.

Sadly I was wrong. I spent the day laying as still as possible with hopes that the tablets were working but sometime around midnight the spasms returned with a vengeance and Shirley called 999 again. This time they sent a paramedic team of 2 ladies and a gentleman. They took one look at me and said the word 'hospital'. When I said that I was currently unable to move they then said the word 'morphine'. My reply was something like 'as Edmund Blackadder would say "it rhymes with clucking bell"'.
Mr. Paramedic seemed amused. 'Ooh you've got wigglies. Do you do a lot with your left hand?' It seems 'wigglies' are what paramedics call strong veins; when I said I played guitar he said it's normally builders who have veins like mine. I guess that's about the only thing that I would have in common with them? 'Mind you' he continued, 'I haven't got my glasses with me'. I heard myself say 'You'll be telling me that you've come straight from the pub next' which got a rather nervous laugh from all concerned... after various scary stories of needles bending or even breaking he managed to get one into the back of my hand, then said he was going to give me something to stop me vomiting when he gave me the morphine. After that it was, as he put it, 'time for the good stuff'. I was given a similar injection many years ago after an operation- I remember getting up, falling over and not feeling a thing. I think this one was stronger- it felt as though I was insulated from the outside world, as though it was all happening somewhere else and I was protected from it all. I don't wish to condone heavy drug use here but I think I can see why people would want to feel like I felt then... and the pain which, only a few minutes earlier had me helplessly doubled up in agony, had all but gone. But now, the tricky bit- I had to stand up, then I had to walk from the bedroom, down the stairs and out into the waiting ambulance.
Well, to cut a long story short, I did it. I don't remember doing it, but I did. Apparently I was (a) dripping with sweat and (b) light grey in colour. But I suddenly found myself in the back of an ambulance telling the young lady my name, address etc. It turned out that she had the same birthday as me... we got to the hospital- it seemed to take ages but Shirley (following along behind) tells me that they were going slow so as not to go over bumps in the road and cause me pain) where I was wheeled into Accident & Emergency and then said goodbye to the paramedic team. I'll probably never see them again. Sitting here, typing this now, I feel like I owe them, well, everything. But it was just part of a day's work for them. Amazing isn't it?
The next 5 or so hours are at best sketchy. At some point in proceedings I was given a injection in my lower back ( Shirley- 'it looked like you had 2 eggs growing out of you'), some more industrial strength painkillers and was examined in a very unfortunate area by a very good looking young Indian lady (I remember saying 'but we hardly know each other' when she told me what she was going to have to do). We left the hospital at 7a.m. and went home, almost as if nothing had happened. We sat at the table drinking coffee, both remembering different bits of the preceding 7 or so hours, her telling me things that I didn't know I'd done, me telling her how it had felt to do them. A strange, surreal conversation, 2 very different sides to the same story. Maybe the strangest thing about it all was that no one had been able to tell me what was wrong with my back, or how it might have been caused- the best estimate was that I had 'twisted a muscle which had gone into spasm'. I must remember not to do that again.

It's now Wednesday afternoon. I didn't do much yesterday. I couldn't do much yesterday. (Annoyingly I was offered tickets to see The Rolling Stones last night. Bugger!) Today I've sat at the computer for the first time since Sunday, checked my e-mails (not very many- boo hoo!) and decided to write up what I remember of Monday here. I might remember some more later, or tomorrow, or next week- in which case I'll add it accordingly. It might not have much to do with 'guitars' (although I've become oddly proud of my wigglies!) but it has a fair amount to do with 'Leigh's mad world' . Well, I think it does- but I keep thinking about those paramedics and others like them who see situations like the one that I was in every day and who just get on with their jobs without any fuss or any ceremony. I only hope I can learn from them and the way that they did what they did- no drama, no panic, just do what's needed to be done. For me there's a genuine heroism here, that goes to show what we as people can achieve for ourselves, for each other, and together. And- inevitably- I keep thinking about my Mum, who spent the latter years of her life so disabled that she was virtually unable to walk or talk. How did she cope without going insane?

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